Some fans knew it was going to be a long night for the Dallas Stars before the team even took the ice in game three of the Stanley Cup Finals.
After a prolonged absence dating back to late February, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos joined the team in its pregame skate and ultimately catalyzed a 5-2 Lightning win with a goal Wednesday night.
After stealing game one, Dallas now trails a series for the first time since a similar 2-1 deficit to the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now, the upstart, underdog Stars are faced with a question that will define their season: can they avoid a 3-1 deficit?
Since the win Saturday, the two finalists have headed in opposite directions. After Dallas’ strong second period led to a win in the opener, Tampa Bay has taken control early and not looked back in games two and three.
On Wendesday, the Lightning raced out to an early-multi goal lead thanks to former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos. Even though Jason Dickinson tallied multiple goals in game three- marking his third of the postseason after going scoreless for the first three rounds- it wasn’t near enough, and a pair of goals from superstars Victor Hedman and Brayden Point put the game away in the second.
Tampa Bay is getting the play from its leaders that Dallas simply isn’t. Regular season scoring leaders Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin haven’t scored in the series. Miro Heiskanen tallied a point Wednesday- marking only his second since exploding for 21 through two rounds of the postseason. After carrying the Stars to a win in game one and keeping them competitive in game two, goalie Anton Khoudobin immensely struggled and was pulled for rookie backup Jake Oettinger, who made only his second career appearance.
Simply put, the magic that got them here seems to be running out for the Stars at the precise wrong time.
Coming back from 2-1 series deficits isn’t impossible- and Dallas has shown plenty of resilience in the postseason. In game four against Calgary, if Joe Pavelski hadn’t wedged in a game-tying goal with 0:12 left, and Alexander Radulov hadn’t walked it off with a game-winning goal, Dallas would’ve faced a 3-1 deficit.
After running out to a 3-1 lead against Colorado, the Avalanche woke up and tied the series at three. The Stars nearly dug themselves too deep a hole in game seven, but fought back for an overtime win and the series. After dropping game two to Vegas in the conference final, the Stars ripped off three straight for the series win.
There’s even recent precedent for a comeback in the Stanley Cup Finals. After going down 2-1 and by way of a 7-2 game three loss, St. Louis and Boston duked it out to seven games before the upstart Blues rallied for the series win. However, in 2018, an expansion Vegas team grabbed game one over Washington, but fell in four straight on the way to a loss in five games.
Game four will determine which story the Stars will go down in Stanley Cup history. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit or worse. If they can’t get it done Friday night (7:00, NBC Sports), they’ll simply be remembered as a fun ride amid strange times.
But, as we’ve seen so many times in the Edmonton bubble with the Stars, there’s always the chance for the unexpected.
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